For Amber Perona, helping others is as simple as planting a seed. And, for the past three years, she’s planted seeds to feed those in need.
For 30 hours weekly, Perona volunteers with the non-profit organization Seeds of Grace, a group that builds organic, sustainable gardens in impoverished neighborhoods.
“We work through our church to feed God’s sheep,” she said, adding the group recruits volunteers through church and community events.
The organization built its first garden in Mazatlán, Mexico in April 2014. Once finished, it supplemented the local feed center providing mostly beans and tortillas with fresh fruits and vegetables. Two gardens now exist in Mazatlán.
Since then, the all-volunteer organization constructed seven gardens in the Bremerton, Wash., area. Participants measure the gardens, provide or till the soil, and establish connections between garden owners and food recipients. Garden owners, however, select which produce to plant.
To date, the local gardens have produced 1,500 pounds of vegetables for seven recipient organizations, including food pantries, backpack programs, and culinary arts programs.
“Our garden leads have reported they feel like they’re bringing the community back together because community are the ones who maintain the gardens,” she said. “They harvest the products, and the get to know their neighbors, and they care for each other’s children.”
As the program’s director of hospitality and volunteerism, Perona provides food for volunteers during work projects, and she helps raise money through retail efforts and catering. She was also involved in securing the program’s first $5,000 grant, writes thank you notes, and attends forums to gather improvement ideas.
Within the next two years, she said, the organization plans to expand significantly. The goal, in 2016, is adding 10 gardens locally and three in Mexico. Additionally, plans exist to expand into both Uganda and the Phillipines by 2018.